Sunday, November 13th is World Kindness Day. It couldn’t come at a better time. With the protests, tensions and fall out from this week’s American election, we may all benefit from taking a few minutes to think about something good and enduring. Are you with me so far? Want to take a few minutes and just think a bit about “What is kindness?”
Kindness, to me, is the quality of being friendly, generous, compassionate, sympathetic, fair and considerate. It is displayed when we show concern for others. It is selflessly acting without expectation of reciprocity or recognition. It improves the way we perceive one another — our outlook on the world. Kindness is both an act and a virtue.
Kindness tends to be a spontaneous gesture of goodwill. It doesn’t matter if it is directed towards a human being or something else – nature, an animal, a community, etc. When we carry out a kind act it is a message from one heart to another, an act of love, an unspoken “I care” statement. It is genuine, honest and shared.
Kindness is one of the most important habits we can develop. It’s cool to be kind.
Science Has Shown That Kindness Heals
Over the years countless studies have been conducted on how kindness impacts lives. It has been proven that there is a psychological reward and it is reflected in the neural circuitry of the brain.
When we act in ways that are kind, we create neural pathways that enhance our feelings of well-being. Our bodies actually produce a natural flow of “feel-good” endorphins – mood elevating neurotransmitters.
Research done at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Tennessee, found that when people offered social support to others, these acts lowered their blood pressure. Although there may be many ways to lower blood pressure, and medication is only one, there are simple, easy and free ways that have a lasting effect.
Think about how many times you have heard that petting an animal has an immediate impact on hypertension. A simple gesture of kindness toward another living being provides “greater self-esteem, less depression and less stress.”
There is also another bonus. A 2003 study at the University of Michigan found that people who regularly offered practical help to others had a lower risk of dying over a five-year period than those who did not.
Kindness Feels Good, Benefiting Both Giver And Receiver
Kindness Is Contagious – Make it Happen
One of the most fascinating features of kindness is that it appears to be self-replicating. When a kind act is observed, it has the ability to inspire it in others. Just think, we have the power to enable, encourage and motivate others to be kind themselves.
This fact was proven in a study conducted by researchers at Cambridge University, the University of Plymouth and the University of California LA. In very simple terms – Monkey See and Monkey Do. When you observe someone help, support or provide assistance to another person, you will often follow that same example. Good feelings are produced and that is what, subsequently, instigates the witness to reach out and do something selfless themselves.
Isn’t it wonderful to know that you will benefit from others’ acts of kindness and then be more likely to be kind to yourself? A single act of being kind can spread through social networks by three or more degrees of separation, from person to person to person to person. And so on, and so on…..
“A single act of kindness throws roots out in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” ~Amelia Earhart
Kindness Is It’s Own Reward
Two recent studies suggest that giving to others makes us happy, even happier than when we give something to ourselves. When we act with kindness, a virtuous cycle is created that promotes lasting happiness and altruism for ourselves.
Researchers in Great Britain published thought-provoking findings in the Journal of Social Psychology. Their studies focused on measuring “life satisfaction”. Following the completion of a life satisfaction survey, 86 participants were divided into three groups. The first group was instructed to perform a daily act of kindness for the next 10 days. The second group was also told to do something “new” each day during the same period. The third group received no specific instructions.
At the end of the 10 day period, the researchers asked the participants to once again complete the same life satisfaction survey. The first two groups (asked to practice kindness and engage in different acts each day) both experienced a significant (and roughly equal) boost in happiness. The last group had no change at all in their level of happiness.
In just as little as 10 days, it became noticeably obvious that when executing good deeds, people feel good and much better about themselves. This proved that there may be particular benefits to both performing acts of kindness as well as performing a variety of novel activities because our actions are linked to happiness.
Further studies showed when we act in kind ways there is a longer and even more profound effect on our level of happiness than with when we experience other behaviors.
“Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” – The Dalai Lama
Kindness Makes for Better Relationships
Better relationships are probably the most obvious and important point of celebrating kindness in our lives. If you are reading this at work, you know that we are all drawn to and better enjoy the company of people who show us kindness. Both at work and in play. This is because kindness reduces the emotional distance between people.
Kindness allows us to feel more “bonded.” We’ve learned from Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs that humans have a fundamental psychological need to belong.
Employees must feel comfortable with their coworkers and their supervisors to experience a sense of belonging. Even if they don’t like or get along with everybody, they still need to feel like they belong – and are cared for by at least some of the people with whom they work.
In circumstances or cultures where our need for belonging is unmet, we see selfish, backstabbing, critical and distrusting behavior become prominent. Why? Because individuals become more likely to focus on their own needs rather than caring for others. The result is unfortunate conduct appears.
The sense of belonging that comes from kindness is actually a genetic thing. Emotional bonds within groups have always increased our chances for survival and success. We are “wired for kindness” because of our “kindness genes”.Stanford Graduate School of Business The Psychology of Kindness in the Workplace
When we are kind to each other, we feel a connection. When we are kind, we help make our world a kinder place to live in.
Unfortunately, just because we have the capacity for kindness and we get real benefits from performing in kind ways, that doesn’t mean that we always act with kindness. Are we too busy? Too distracted? Too self centered? Living in a bad environment or culture? Or is it as simple as we are “out of practice”? Researchers argue that kindness is like a muscle that only becomes strong and developed when we exercise it.
Kindness should never be a chore. It needs to be something we do naturally – because it makes us feel happy and good. Kindness and generosity are most certainly linked to greater life satisfaction, stronger relationships, and better mental and physical health.
By practicing a philosophy of kindness, our brain becomes trained in the art and we can naturally alter our behavior. This results in creating better relationships with both yourselves as well as with others. Imagine how much greater happiness and joy we can consciously add to the lives of ourselves and the people around us?
No one ever regrets being kind.